A basic human and religious question is: Who am I? In objective language: What is a man?
Anthropology, the science of man, is a term we are familiar with as denoting the study of mans physical and cultural characteristics and history. As a modern science giving a naturalistic description and theory about mankind, anthropology is only about a century old. It is essentially an interdisciplinary applied science, applying geology, geography, genetics, biology, the psychosocial sciences, linguistics, archaeology, history, and other disciplines toward a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of man.
We are less familiar with what Webster describes under anthropology, 2 as religious teaching about the origin, nature, and destiny of man from the perspective of his relation to God. These theological anthropologies may deal with mans freedom, finitude, sin, anxiety, and deliverance. But for all those of us who as we mature start wondering who we are, where we are, what is our meaning, purpose, duty, destiny, and hope, we are searching for a religious anthropology.
Each fresh start on the never-ending quest of Man as he ought to be has been the response of theory to fresh facts about Man as he is. And, meanwhile, the dreams and speculations of one thinker after another—even dreams and speculations which have moved nations and precipitated revolutions—have ceased to command mens reason, when they ceased to accord with their knowledge.
… We have seen the very questions which philosophers have asked, the very questions which perplexed them, no less than the solutions which they proposed, melt away and vanish, as problems, when the perspective of anthropology shifted and the standpoint of observation advanced. This is not new experience; nor is ,it peculiar either to anthropology among the natural sciences, or to political science among the aspects of the study of man, It is the common law of the minds growth, which all science manifests, and all philosophy.¹
Biological Man and His Culture
Within the discipline of anthropology, three basic approaches provide an understanding of the nature of man: physical anthropology, through his biological development and characteristics; archaeology, whose concern is with the development of mans culture over time; and ethnology, deriving some understanding from a comparison of living societies and cultures. While it may seem that we have begun by moving away from any basic conception as to the nature of man by introducing such concepts as culture and society, this is far from the truth. Indeed, we may flatly assert that insofar as man is human, he is truly to be distinguished from the remainder of the animal kingdom only because of his development of a complex culture. Stated in its essential simplicity, this might seem to indicate that the distinctions between man and his close animal relatives are of but slight import. This notion must also be quickly dispelled, for not only are we completely dependent upon our culture, but the possession of a culture and the gradual evolution of more complex cultures have guided or acted upon the biological evolution of man. Thus the species Homo sapiens, as we observe it today, is the product of a long line of biological evolution in which the major selective force has been culture. These premises are of profound importance and stated in a different manner what they involve is a conception of biological man and his culture as one inextricable whole—we cannot conceive of man without his culture or of culture without man. And further, from an operational point of view, it also implies that when we speak of the perfectibility of man we are speaking of the perfectibility of our culture. This may be a much easier task, though the extent to which the values of a culture are internalized and the time required for changes to affect the individual require attention. Without jumping ahead further in a consideration of the implications of these premises, their importance requires some review to establish how firmly they may be accepted. …
¹ John L. Myres, The Influence of Anthropology on the Course of Political Science, University of California Publications in History 4, no.1 (1916):74-75.
David A. Baerreis is professor of anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Potentials for Religion from the Sciences by Ralph Wendell Burhoe
While the dominant views of the past century have held that religion is a division of culture inherently divorced from that of the sciences, there have been some who hold that he who has found science in opposition to religion has never properly understood either. While few in number, these have included some of the most distinguished of scientists, if not of theologians, philosophers, humanistic scholars, and poets.¹ Among these there has begun a reexamination of the relevance of the sciences for illuminating human values and religion. …
¹ The authors and literature cited in Zygon provide a sample.
Ralph Wendell Burhoe is professor of theology and the sciences and director of the Center for Advanced Study in Theology and the Sciences, Meadville/Lombard Theological School. Chicago.
Sociological Implications in the Thought of Teilhard de Chardin by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In the ten years since Pierre Teilhard de Chardins Phenomenon of Man first appeared in English, the thought of the French paleontologist has attracted widespread attention and produced an uncommon degree of controversy. Teilhards evolutionary theories have found receptive audiences in the most unlikely places, from Marxist theoreticians in Moscow to Leopold Senghor in Senegal and to the Mountain Survival School in Black Hawk, Colorado; and, as is to be expected, most followers seem to have accepted their message in a rather uncritical way. The controversy has achieved a sharper focus in two distinct circles: the Catholic theological community, and among those few scientists who take the trouble to involve themselves in the discussion of such broadly general theories as Teilhards are. …
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is associate professor of sociology and anthropology, Lake Forest College. Lake Forest, Illinois. As of July 1970, he has been appointed associate professor of human development, University of Chicago.
To explain the existence of evolving matter and its multiform manifestations, we may accept a supernatural design or reject traditional theological interpretations, pleading ignorance about the origin and purpose of matter and life. In any case we must agree that man has not created the earth, the oceans, other creatures, or himself, and that our world is the product of a chain of events culminating in the appearance of organic life.
The first hominids were only a new kind of mammal fighting for survival among other animals, hiding in caves and participating in the universal hunting game of killing and being killed. Lacking scientific knowledge and proper skills, primitive man was a minor event in the evolving history of the world, unable to modify the course of a river, to cultivate fields, or to improve his own health. His main concern was the search for food which he could not produce. In the face of natural catastrophes such as plagues or floods he felt helpless, and his reactions were limited to resignation, despair, or appeal to supernatural powers without realizing that one day man would not be the slave but the master of his own environment.
The ecological circumstances have been drastically changed with the development of civilization. Awareness of his own existence, construction of tools, acquisition of knowledge, and deliberate modification of nature were the main. factors which determined human supremacy over animals. The process of ecological domination, according to purposeful design, represented a victory of intelligence over mindless fate without precedent in the history of any other species. Mans power slowly extended over the surface of the earth, plowing the fields, herding cattle, constructing cities, opening roads, harnessing the power of the rivers, and reaching for the stars.
Opposing human intelligence to natural fate has a dramatic appeal, but in reality the existence of man, together with all his attributes and creations, is solely the result of natural evolution. Man has not created man. No conscious efforts were made to design or modify genetic endowment or brain structure. The process was similar to the development of wings, according to laws of biological evolution. We cannot claim that birds fly on the air in defiance of gravity, but only that they use the lifting support of the wind as determined by physical laws. Wings are a gracious gift of nature which did not require scientific knowledge, mathematical calculations, or even the desire to own wings. Likewise the development of human intelligence and creativity has been an automatic process resulting from many thousands of years of history. …
Jose M. R. Delgado is professor of physiology and psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.
Decision and Destiny: The Future of Life on Earth by George Wald
Man has been engaged, since we have known him, in an unending struggle to know: whence he comes, what kind of thing he is, and at least a hint of what may become of him.
I think that the struggle to know is epitomized in science. One could add a word and say an unending struggle to know God. I think the big question is, If one added that word, would one have changed the meaning of the sentence? For me, no.
I think of myself as a deeply religious person. But my religion is that of one scientist. It is wholly secular. It contains no supernatural elements. Nature is enough for me: enough of mystery, beauty, reality. I am getting along with nature. we are beginning to understand a little about what kind of universe we are in, the place in it of life and the place in life of man. Those are big things. I just want to say a few words about them. …
George Wald is professor of biology, Harvard University. This article is an edited transcription of a speech delivered at the John XXIII Institute conference on theology and ecology, Saint Xavier College, Chicago, January 31, 1970.
Ecological Commitment as Theological Responsibility by Joseph Sittler
There are two reasons why this will not be a long speech. First, I understand that I am here to excite a discussion, not to preempt one. Second, consideration of so large a matter in so short a time requires that we be very precise about theology and ecology. I intend to make an effort in that direction.
Dr. Walds address has made it unnecessary for me to review any of the polluted facts of the case. If we can neither read nor listen, we can all see and smell. From Dr. Walds remarks, even the offhand ones, it is clear that there is an economics of ecology. There obviously is emerging a politics of ecology. There is already a well-developed statistics of ecology. There is an aesthetics of ecology and a history of it. And there is also a biology and a botany and a chemistry of ecology.
I have been asked to speak about a theology of ecology or a theology for ecology, and I want to make a distinction. A theology for ecology is obviously demanded by the facts of the case. But it is rather a theology of ecology that I want to talk about, For if we start talking about a theology for ecology, we will try to manufacture out of uncriticized theological categories consequent moralistic efforts stretched to enclose new and crucial facts. Such an effort will not really be a redoing of theology in view of ecology but only an extension of traditional ethics in the presence of crisis. If that should happen, and if uncriticized fundamental categories are simply reassessed and extended, we will get ecology in the textbooks on systematic theology probably as one part of eschatology! I can already envision the busy Jehovahs Witnesses adding to the eschaton, which they so gleefully anticipate, the ecological disintegration as the divine mechanism of catastrophe! …
Joseph Sittler is professor of theology, University of Chicago. This article-a speech delivered at the John XXIII Institute conference on theology and ecology, Saint Xavier College, Chicago, January 31,1970, following an address by Prof. George Wald—is presented, says the author, as an example of how complex issues may be responsibly popularized for ordinary listeners.